PGurus explained the players involved in the sabotages and why it is vital to expose middlemen and corporate Dalals and delink politics from the subsequent investigation. Many trans-national operators were involved in the conspiracy to sabotage the Bofors probe via middlemen. This play-book (game plan) is repeated in many deals wherein the political class pressed the accelerator to defame the opponent and the perhaps the middlemen enjoyed the cream. We have already reported who were all behind the sabotage of the Bofors scam probe and trial.
The Hindujas are worried that their Swiss account would expose many of their Illegal gun deals with Iran and Contra Rebels. Therefore, since 1991, the Hindujas have been protecting their Bofors account by imposing legal hurdles in the form of appeals and so on.
Part 3: The conspiracy, timeline & the road ahead
The special investigation team has said that “Rajiv Gandhi’s name appears not as a beneficiary but because as Prime Minister and Defence Minister he was involved in one of the swiftest government decisions ever of awarding a hefty defence contract”. One is at a loss to understand what was wrong in it. It was for the Government and the Defence Ministry to decide how quickly they needed the equipment and simply because the government took a quick decision in clinching the deal, it does not follow something was fishy about it. Generally, it is said that delay and the red tape lead to corruption but here the Special Investigation Team (SIT) people strangely took a different view. R.C.Sharma who succeeded Joginder Singh as CBI chief has publicly remarked, there is no evidence to blame Rajiv Gandhi to the Bofors pay-offs. The press has a view that Sharma was close to the Congress in general and Sonia in particular.
Especially in arms deals, agreements are signed between two countries, but it is common practice that it is helped along the way by some individuals called middlemen or brokers who are generally expert negotiators. It was Rajiv Gandhi who insisted with the Bofors that no middlemen should be employed and Bofors issued the ‘no middlemen‘ certificate to India. Rajiv earlier in his talk with Olaf Palme discussed the no middlemen condition with him and the Swedish Prime Minister gave his word on it. Later Olaf Palme was killed under mysterious circumstances and Rajiv went to Stockholm to attend the funeral. Then the new Prime Minister Ingvar Carlsson told him that he had recorded his decision on the file approving the award of the contract for the Howitzer gun to Swedish company Bofors subject to certain certifications from the Swedish Government regarding the financial terms of the contract. That anybody received any money from Bofors, it was purely a legitimate business deal between that person and Bofors; and Rajiv was neither aware of it nor did he have anything to do with it.
The Hindujas having a wide network of international business are also said to have a hand in the Bofors commission money. In the first part of our series, we have reported this angle in detail. It is reported that the Swiss authorities have told CBI informally that the Hindujas made the mistake of channelling sums of money from other deals through the same account into which the Bofors pay-offs was transferred. The Hindujas are worried that their Swiss account would expose many of their Illegal gun deals with Iran and Contra Rebels. Therefore, since 1991, the Hindujas have been protecting their Bofors account by imposing legal hurdles in the form of appeals and so on.
The final conclusion is emerging from the investigation that the middlemen in the deal were acting as the double agent; this is the conclusive outcome of the investigation.
From the maze of information available from the CBI investigations into Bofors scandal, one thing becomes clear – the Bofors paid money by way of commission or winding up charges to some intermediaries who had something to do professionally in such deals and the linking of Rajiv Gandhi’s name in such transfer of money is a politically motivated attempt to tarnish his image and also to put hurdles in the purchase of necessary weaponry for the Indian Defence Services.
The Hindujas are among the alleged recipients of the payoffs in the Bofors scam. The details of the Hinduja’s Swiss account were released by the Swiss authorities in the second instalment of papers but it was followed up with no action. AB Vajpayee enjoyed close links with the Hinduja brothers, and it is said they have done intense international lobbying for Vajpayee to project his image. Vajpayee was the guest of honour at the inauguration in Mumbai of The Indus-Ind Bank owned by the Hindujas. Earlier he had been a guest of honour at the Diwali banquet hosted by the Hinduja brothers in London. It was said Vajpayee often listens to Hindujas advice on the formulation of India’s economic policy. Rajiv Gandhi got penalized politically in Bofors Scam, while main commission agents, the Hinduja’s friends in BJP got benefited politically in the coming years.
The final conclusion is emerging from the investigation that the middlemen in the deal were acting as the double agent; this is the conclusive outcome of the investigation. They certainly made money in the transaction and then conveniently shifted to the other side to defame the political adversary by using selective leaks in the press from time to time and took business advantages from their new political masters. Morale of the story is – Middlemen and Corporate Houses thrive whoever comes to power.
March 24, 1986: The Rs 1,437-crore deal between India and the Swedish arms manufacturer AB Bofors for the supply of 400 155mm Howitzer guns for the Indian Army was entered on March 24, 1986.
April 16, 1987: The Swedish Radio on April 16, 1987, had claimed that the company had paid bribes to top Indian politicians and defence personnel. The Hindu newspaper’s Geneva-based Journalist Chitra Subramaniam published the Swedish Radio’s Report and created a big storm in India.
April 20, 1987: Rajiv Gandhi told the Lok Sabha that no kickbacks were paid and no middlemen were involved.
August 6, 1987: Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) set up under former union minister B Shankaranand to investigate the kickbacks allegations.
February 1988: Indian investigators visit Sweden to probe the issue
July 18, 1989: JPC submitted a report to the Parliament
November 1989: Congress was defeated in general elections; therefore, Rajiv Gandhi lost his position.
December 26, 1989: Then Prime Minister V P Singh-led Government barred Bofors from signing any contract with India.
January 22, 1990: The CBI had registered the FIR for the alleged offences of criminal conspiracy, cheating, forgery under the Indian Penal Code and other sections of Prevention of Corruption Act against Martin Ardbo, the then President of AB Bofors, alleged middleman Win Chadda and Hinduja brothers.
February 1990: First Letter Rogatory sent to the Swiss Government.
February 1992: Journalist Bo Anderson’s report on the Bofors scandal was published, which created a massive controversy.
December 1992: The Supreme Court rejected the complaint in the case reversing Delhi High Court’s decision.
July 1993: The Swiss Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of Ottavio Quattrocchi and other accused in the case. Quattrocchi was an Italian businessman who was being sought until early 2009 in India for criminal charges for acting as a conduit for bribes in the Bofors scandal. In the same month, Quattrocchi left India and has not returned since.
February 1997: Non-bailable warrant (NBW) and Red Corner notice issued against Quattrocchi.
March-August 1998: Quattrocchi filed a plea, which was rejected in Supreme Court as he refused to appear in the Indian court.
December 1998: Second Rogatory Letter sent to the Swiss government to probe into the transfer of money from Guernsey and Austria to Switzerland.
October 22, 1999: The first charge sheet in the case was filed against Win Chadda, who was an agent of A B Bofors, Quattrocchi, then defence secretary S K Bhatnagar, Martin Karl Ardbo, who was the president of the gun manufacturer, and the Bofors company.
March-September 2000: Chadha came to India to face trial and sought permission to go to Dubai for medical treatment but the plea was rejected. An open NBC was issued in July against Ardbo.
September-October 2000: Hinduja brothers issued a statement in London that said that the funds allocated by them had no connection to the Bofors deal. However, a supplementary charge sheet was filed against Hinduja brothers and a charge-sheet was filed against Quattrocchi, who asked Supreme Court to reverse the order of his arrest but when the court asked him to appear before CBI for a probe, he refused to oblige.
December 2000: Quattrocchi was arrested in Malaysia, but later received bail on the condition that he does not leave the country.
August 2001: Bhatnagar dies of cancer.
December 2002: India requested for Quattrocchi’s extradition but Malaysia High Court turned down the request.
July 2003: Letter of Rogatory sent by India to the United Kingdom seeking the freezing of Quattrocchi’s bank accounts.
February-March 2004: Court had exonerated late Rajiv Gandhi and Bhatnagar the case and directed framing of charge of forgery under Section 465 of IPC against the Bofors company. Malaysian Supreme Courted rejected India’s extradition request of Quattrocchi.
May-October 2005: Delhi HC quashed charges against the Hinduja brother and A B Bofors. The apex court had allowed Ajay Agarwal, a Supreme Court lawyer, to file an appeal against the high court verdict in the absence of any appeal by CBI within the mandatory 90 days.
January 2006: SC directs Centre and CBI to ensure the status quo of freezing Quattrocchi’s accounts. However, money was withdrawn on the same day.
February-June 2007: The Interpol arrested Quattrocchi at Iguazu Airport in Argentine. Three months later, the Federal court of the first instance declined India’s request for extradition.
April-November 2009: CBI withdrew Red Corner Notice against Quattrocchi and sought SC’s permission to withdraw the case as continuous efforts of extradition had failed. Later, Ajay Agarwal filed an RTI application seeking the documents of de-freezing Quattrocchi’s account in London, but CBI refused to reply to the plea.
December 2010: Court reversed order on CBI plea to discharge Quattrocchi. Income tax tribunal asked the income tax department to get the tax dues from Quattrocchhi and Chaddha’s son.
February-March 2011: Chief Information Commission accused CBI of withholding information. A month later, a special CBI court in Delhi had discharged Quattrocchi from the case saying the country cannot afford to spend hard-earned money on his extradition which has already cost Rs 250 crore.
April 2012: Swedish police chief Sten Lindstrom revealed many hidden aspects of Bofors and said Indian officials never met him. He added that the Swedish Police had no evidence of Rajiv Gandhi or Amitabh Bachchan, who was a close friend of the former Prime Minister, receiving kickbacks in the Bofors scam. Amitabh Bachchan’s name first appeared in this scandal through a newspaper who printed his name and a case was filed against him but later he was declared innocent.
July 2013: Quattrocchi, who fled from here on July 29-30, 1993, has never appeared before any court in India to face prosecution. He passed away on July 13, 2013. The other accused persons who have died are Bhatnagar, Chadda and Ardbo.
December 1, 2016: The hearing of Ajay Agarwal’s had taken place after a gap of almost six years since August 12, 2010.
July 14, 2017: The CBI said it would open the investigation on the Bofors case if the Supreme Court and Centre orders for the same.
October 19, 2017: CBI asserted that they will probe the facts and circumstances revealed in connection to Bofors scam, including the information provided by Michael Hershman to a TV channel in an interview, wherein he made several revelations and named some powerful politicians in India linked with the deal. Michael Hershman, who first found Bofors papers, was a secret investigator the Indian government had deployed.
November 2, 2018: The Supreme Court dismissed the CBI’s appeal against the Delhi High Court’s 2005 verdict discharging all the accused, including Hinduja brothers, in the politically-sensitive Rs 64 crore Bofors pay-off case. A bench headed by Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi rejected the CBI plea seeking condonation of the 13-year delay in filing the appeal against the May 31, 2005 judgment of the high court. It said it was not convinced with the grounds of the CBI to condone over 4,500 days’. The apex court, however, said the CBI can raise all grounds in the appeal against the same high court verdict filed by advocate Ajay Agrawal who has also challenged the judgment. The top court has already admitted the petition filed by Agrawal
May 16, 2019: The CBI, in a remarkable U-turn, withdrew from a Delhi court its application seeking permission to further probe the case. Making submission before a court at the Tis Hazari district courts, counsel for the probe agency said that it would decide the future course in the matter later. But at the moment, the agency did not want to pursue the application for permission to further probe the case, the counsel further said. Meanwhile, advocate Ajay Agarwal, who had also moved an application for further probe into the matter, also moved an application for withdrawing his plea. But when the court threatened to impose costs on him for wasting its time, Agarwal said that he would argue on it. The next hearing date is not yet scheduled.
The road ahead: Unlike the old Atal-Advani soft BJP, will the present Narendra Modi led BJP Government to pursue this case? Will Modi Government ask CBI to change its stand and pursue the case?
Bofors Scandal – The murky tale of sabotage: Who all are responsible? – Sep 26, 2020, PGurus.com